I want to preface these remarks by assuring my listeners that if President Obama makes one false move, my producers and I will hold him to account and scrutinize him with the same fervor as we have President Bush. Yes we will!
I've obviously had days to think about this remarkable moment in American history and all the things have been said by now. As Desmond Tutu said in the Washington Post on Sunday, November 9th, no one of my generation thought he'd see the end of the Soviet Union or the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as president of a post-apartheid South Africa--as he ranked the Obama achievement with those milestones. I have thought this over a lot and I always believed that a black candidate of Obama's qualities would emerge--I just never thought there'd be enough white people who would vote for such a person, and now I'm very proud and pleased to know differently. Yes, I know that Obama lost the white vote--but I also know that he wouldn't have won without the significant number of whites who voted for him. As we all know, vast numbers of white voters overcame age-old prejudices---for whatever reasons--to cast their first votes for an African-American.
I grew up in segregationist Louisville, Kentucky. Jim Crow is not a page in a history book to me--I was there and I lived it. When I was a little kid, my mother would take me on the bus to go downtown to shop in department stores where black people were not be allowed to try on the clothes for sale. Those stores had four restrooms and two water fountains. I was a little kid and couldn't read the signs that told me which restrooms and which water fountains were designated "colored." When I chose the "wrong" one I'd get a whipping.
I loved my father, but I was repulsed by his bigotry. He believed black people were not fully human. They were not black people to my father--they were niggers. That was a word he passed on to me and I had to un-learn it. For this I give thanks to my five-years-older brother Joe, who told me about this fellow named Martin Luther King back in the 1950's when we were both still children. Nowadays we talk about being "on the right side of history." Brother Joe and I chose to be there at the expense of our father's love. Dad would even race-bait me. We'd be watching the Ed Sullivan Show and when a black performer came on, he'd utter some racial epithet to provoke a response from me. Once I caught on, I'd deny him a reaction. And here's the great irony: If my father had been alive last Tuesday, he'd have voted for Barack Obama because he was a yellow-dog Democrat who voted for EVERY Democrat. I am not, and have voted for Republicans and Democrats.
White people who voted for Obama are in a self-congratulatory euphoria--and I will not disturb them from that. Obama made a lot of white converts and, considering the man's enormous gifts, I'm not not surprised by that. I'm actually more surprised by the number of black converts. The African-American community was slow to warm to Barak Obama--or to even accept him as a black person, a phenonemon that vexes white people. We see him as a a mixed-race fellow who self-identifies as a black. African-Americans originally saw him as someone not descended from American slaves and therefore someone who'd not shared their experience. Obama had to win over black America AFTER he'd won over white people in the Iowa caucuses. That completely knocks me down! After Iowa, black people embraced Obama and started to believe.
All of the OMG pieces have already been written about the Obama victory and most of them were wonderful to read. This is deservedly a moment in history to be celebrated. But Obama may come to wonder why we were so happy to elect him. He now has to deal with a pile of crud that no one since Franklin Roosevelt has been asked to take on. I wish him luck, but I also promise him that if he screws up I'll be on him like a blanket.
As for John McCain, I totally confess that I am one of those Washington reporters who has swooned over the guy. I have interviewed him numerous times and have been totally charmed by his candor. I would have been very happy to vote for John McCain, but somewhere along the road he got some very bad advice--or maybe the decision was his. In his race against Barack Obama, John McCain went totally negative and became someone I didn't know. He lied, distorted and followed the old Lee Atwater Republican playbook. That strategy failed, and I hope he uses his remaining time in public life to become the guy he used to be.
And one more thing about my dad who played catch with me and came to all my high school football games when he knew I'd see action only if we were up by forty points. In the end, he'd have have voted for Obama for all the right reasons. He died in 1991 at age 78. He was a youngster who had more maturing to do. He'd have redeemed himself if he hadn't run out of time.